Aspen’s ‘musical mayor’ Bobby Mason to leave town after farewell concert and Hall of Fame induction
IF YOU GO …
Who: Bobby Mason with Jan Garrett and JD Martin
Where: Aspen Chapel
When: Saturday, Jan. 13, 6:30 p.m.
How much: $30
More info: http://www.bobbymason.com
What: Aspen Hall of Fame Banquet
Where: Hotel Jerome
When: Saturday, Jan. 20, 5 p.m.
How much: $125
More info: The 2018 inductees are Bobby Mason, Bob and Tee Child and Lester Crown; http://www.aspenhalloffame.org
After nearly 50 years in Aspen, Bobby Mason, the guitarist and singer often called the town’s “musical mayor,” is taking a final bow.
Mason, 73, will give a farewell concert Saturday night at the Aspen Chapel. He’ll be inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame next weekend. Then the former Starwood frontman is taking to the road as a “traveling minstrel,” planning to live with his wife, Jane, in an Airstream trailer.
“It’s really a bittersweet thing,” the jolly local music icon said this week beside the fireplace in his home, wearing oxygen tubes in his nose and a permasmile on his face. “This is my home. It will always be my home. I’ll be buried here or spread here or have my body decompose here — something like that. And all my friends are here.”
A lung ailment is forcing Mason to lower altitude, ending a run in Aspen that began in 1969 when he came to town from Los Angeles for a two-week gig and decided to stick around.
In the 1970s, Mason became a fixture of the booming Aspen music scene while, with Starwood, he earned national notoriety — playing Starwood’s “One Time Band” with John Denver on “The Merv Griffin Show,” recording “Ballad of a Loser” with Dolly Parton in Nashville, headlining iconic venues such as Red Rocks Ampitheatre and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and opening for Eddie Money and Santana at the Cow Palace near San Francisco.
Starwood broke up in 1978 as the disco era dawned in Aspen and elsewhere. But Mason remained a local staple. Some of his most memorable gigs, he said, have been the countless benefit shows he’s played for local ski bums facing hard times or seemingly insurmountable medical bills.
Recent career high points have included his sold-out “Bobby Mason Alive” concert at the Wheeler Opera House in 2013, which brought an energized Mason back onstage for the first time after a 2012 open-heart surgery. In 2014, he reunited with Starwood for the Deaf Camp Picnic in Snowmass Village and married Jane on stage during the set.
Mason said he was “blown away” when he got the call from the Aspen Hall of Fame last summer, telling him he’d been selected as the first musician to join the hall. Jane noted that he’s cheekily been calling it his “indictment” into the Hall of Fame. But he’s taking the honor seriously.
“I’ve already gone through about 5,000 planned acceptance speeches,” he said. “It’s an incredible honor. And I know everybody in there — 98 percent of them I really, physically knew. So to be considered for that is amazing. I still question people’s sanity.”
Mason tried to leave Aspen once before, in 2005, when he was divorced and went to California to care for his mother. But the departure didn’t stick. This time he doesn’t have a choice.
“I can’t breathe, so it’s over,” he said.
Leaving town and joining the Hall of Fame have put him in a reflective mood, looking back on the music and friendships he’s found in Aspen’s tight-knit community, along with his evolution from hard-partying rock star to sober elder statesman of the local scene. He gave up drinking and drugs in 1990.
“What a great life,” he said. “I played with the best people you can play with in the music business and with the best friends and healers in the world. It’s been a very healing thing.”
For his farewell concert at the Aspen Chapel, Mason will be joined by frequent collaborators Jan Garrett and J.D. Martin in what he’s calling “a singer-songwriter thing.”
“I’m not sad yet,” he said. “But I think there is a ‘yet’ in there.”
Mason compared the feeling of leaving Aspen forever to the sensation of his mother dying. Back then, he said, the sense of loss didn’t set in until later.
“A couple months later, I wanted to call her and went, ‘Oh,’ and I broke down,” he said. “I love breaking down. I love crying and that kind of thing. Because there’s been a lot of joy in my life.”
Downsizing to the trailer means Mason will have to sell many of his 13 guitars — he’s also auctioning off an autographed one at Saturday’s concert, and will be accepting donations to help fund his life on the road.
While Mason is an Aspen icon, his Hall of Fame credentials and his time as the de facto musical mayor of Aspen has not made him rich. He summed up his feelings about this beautifully in one of his best late career songs, “Dirt Rich in Dollar Town.” The financial strain worsened in the summer of 2016 when one of his prosthetic knees grew infected, had to be removed and required several major surgeries to get Mason walking again — the medical bills have been a hardship.
“We don’t have a lot of money,” Mason said. “We don’t have anything.”
But they’re making the most of it. The Masons spent the past three months on an extended road trip in their 22-foot-long Airstream. They drove cross-country, avoiding interstates to ride the back roads. Mason played a few gigs in New Hampshire and they visited family in Maine.
“It was more of a looking-around trip, of figuring out, ‘Can we be in the trailer together for more than two weeks without killing each other?’” Mason said. “We were in there for three months and I can’t wait to get back.”
After the Hall of Fame induction next weekend, he and Jane are loading up the trailer and going back on the road. The pair is aiming first for the southwest, planning to begin with an extended stay in the tiny Sonoran Desert town of Earp.
“We’re doing it without a lot of plans,” Mason said. “At first it was really scary. Now it’s just a great adventure.”
They’ve started a Facebook page, titled “Music Safari,” where they plan to document their travels.
“I’m excited to play for people who don’t know who I am,” Mason said. “I’m excited to go out and share the music.”
The disintegration of the local music scene over the past two decades has left Mason somewhat dejected. The once-thriving ecosystem of live local music steadily devolved into scant, low-paying opportunities and apres-ski gigs — a foreboding landscape for those following in Mason’s footsteps.
“This town has really dried up with musical offerings,” Mason said. “There are a couple places to play, but they’re like, ‘Please don’t entertain, just do background music.’”
Out on the road, he knows he’ll see a lot of the old-time Aspenites who have spread around the country and he hopes to meet new musicians to play with. While this marks the end of a legendary run in Aspen for Mason, it’s also a new beginning. As he recalled a friend recently putting it: “Just when you think it’s all over, it’s just starting.”
Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s new fall lecture series will run weekly from Oct. 20 through Dec. 6. The lineup consists of artists nationwide who will be spending one to three weeks at the ranch completing projects within their area of expertise and exploring new work in the studios.